INTERVIEW WITH DARJA GUTNICK, FOUNDER OF 12grapes
by Chloë Daniel – 10th March
I park my bike at that corner where Danzigerstrasse and Greifswalderstrasse intersect. The trams trundle in all directions, the gambling shop windows flicker and the discount store covers its cheap wares against the March rain. If it weren’t for the cars and the Foodora bill board, this could be Berlin 1996. But, away from the street, one storey up from the closed-down video store, within the lofty white walls of an Altbau-flat-turned-shared-office space, one startup’s activities couldn’t be more contemporary.
I am at the office of 12grapes – a new consultancy focused on supporting accelerators to identify high-potential startups and streamlining startups’ performance, and the latest GTEC Lab partner to offer their support to the tech startup teams we work with.
Founder Darja Gutnick makes us tea and explains more about what they do, “We have two offerings right now – one is for early-stage investors to help them select or assess teams and the second one, which naturally comes out of that, is to help teams solve the challenges that we discover.”
With a background in startups and organisational psychology – Darja is currently researching for her organisational psychology PhD and has founded and worked in a range of startups, and her colleague Sylvia Taylor is an experienced change management consultant – together they have developed a model for assessing high-performing founder teams. They look specifically at three areas: the individual founder, the founder team, and team dynamics. From these, they rank the startups on the final selection list for accelerator programs and suggest which of the teams have the right attributes to succeed. Post assessment, Darja and Sylvia recommend and deliver coaching to chosen startups to address any weaknesses identified.
“Before we can train startups, we need to assess them.” Darja says at her desk framed by post-it notes. “Since founding in October last year, we’ve assessed over 100 startups. What comes out these assessments is that most founders have a shared mission but not a shared vision – without which the startup lacks a solid foundation.”
Creating a vision collaboratively is not easy. It is widely recognised in the industry that a big reason why startups fall apart is because of conflict between co-founders – the result in part, according to Darja, of vision, roles, responsibilities, as well as methods for communication and decision-making, not being set out clearly from the beginning. That is what they want to fix. Right now, this is through personalised assessment. Long-term, 12grapes plan to develop a more standardised approach, potentially using AI, and use that to help a far greater number of startups.
The scale of their preparation and research is impressive. “To create a successful, scientifically-based model, we went through 300 papers and looked a vast range of research streams. We have focused this information down to 18 predictors, which we use for measuring startups’ potential.”
For 12grapes, as with any startup, Darja recognises the challenges. “Assessing and consulting startups is a very young and immature market,” she tells me. “We’re still working on understanding where the most crucial pain point for accelerators and startups is and from there creating a viable business. The interest and paying clients we have so far show us that these pain points are there.”
12grapes’ partnership with the GTEC Lab is about helping as many startups as possible and consolidating their methodology. Darja and Sylvia will offer a discounted assessment to GTEC Lab startups to understand what their current challenges are and then work with them using a framework based on mission, vision, value and motivation, followed then by communication and goals. They will also offer services and a high performance team development kit to the teams for free. Ultimately, they want to support the teams in creating a team charter and putting this into active practice through their business activity.
12grapes’ numeralised vision, Darja tells me as I pull on my winter coat ready for the sharp cold outside, is to help one million entrepreneurs. The more happy entrepreneurs they create now are potential future referrals and long-term 12grapes’ fans. It’s a privilege for the GTEC Lab startups to enjoy the opportunity.
Thanks Darja – we are looking forward to seeing how 12grapes evolves and hearing the feedback from our startups.